How The Eruption of Thera Changed the World

Thera, Modern Greek Thíra, also called Santorin, or Santoríni, island, southernmost island of the Cyclades (Modern Greek: Kykládes) group, Greece, in the Aegean Sea, sometimes included in the Southern Sporades group. The island has an area of 29 square miles (76 square km) and, together with other islands, forms an eparkhía (“eparchy”) of the nomós (department) of Cyclades.

Geologically, Thera is the remaining eastern half of an exploded volcano. Its bow-shaped rim and the remnant isles of Thirasía and Aspronísi form an open lagoon that measures 37 miles (60 km) in circumference. In the centre of the lagoon are two active volcanic islets, Néa Kaméni (“New Burnt Island”) and Palaía Kaméni (“Old Burnt Island”). Thera proper consists largely of lava and pumice, the latter of which is the island’s main export. Red-wine grapes are also grown. The lagoon is rimmed by red-, white-, and black-striped volcanic cliffs rising to almost 1,000 feet (300 metres). The summit of Thera is the 1,857-foot (566-metre) limestone Mount Profítis Ilías in the southeast. The chief town, Thíra (locally called Firá), was badly damaged by an earthquake in 1956. Other settlements include Emboríon and Pírgos to the south and the port of Oía at the north entrance to the lagoon, which was destroyed by the 1956 earthquake.

Known as Calliste (“Most Beautiful”) in antiquity, Thera was occupied before 2000 bce. One of the largest volcanic eruptions known occurred on the island. This is thought to have occurred about 1500 bce, although, based on evidence obtained during the 1980s from a Greenland ice-core and from tree-ring and radiocarbon dating, some scholars believe that it occurred earlier, during the 1620s bce. Ash and pumice from the eruption have been found as far away as Egypt and Israel, and there has been speculation that the eruption was the source of the legend of Atlantis and of stories in the Old Testament book of Exodus. 

During the Bronze Age the island of Crete, some 70 miles (110 km) south of Thera, was the centre of Minoan civilization. About 1450 bce most major settlements in central and southern Crete were destroyed by fire and abandoned. In 1939 the Greek archaeologist Spyridon Marinatos suggested that the eruption on Thera had led to the collapse of the Minoan civilization; his theory was widely accepted. During the 1980s, however, archaeologists found evidence that Minoan culture continued to flourish for some time after the eruption. Archaeological evidence also indicated that the amounts of ash from the eruption that fell on Crete were not enough to cause significant damage to crops or buildings.

About the beginning of the 1st millennium bce, Dorian settlers from the mainland landed on Thera. About 630 the important Theran colony of Cyrene was settled on the north coast of Africa, in accord with a command of the Delphic oracle. From 308 to 145 the island, a member of the Cycladic League, was a Ptolemaic protectorate.

From that period date many of the ruins of the ancient city of Thera, unearthed (1895–1903) by a German archaeologist on the east coast. The earliest excavations by the French School at Athens (1869) uncovered a Middle Minoan, or Cycladic (c. 2000–c. 1570 bce), city beneath the pumice at the northern tip of Thirasía. Of even greater significance was the excavation begun by Marinatos during the 1960s south of Akrotíri village, which revealed a rich Minoan city buried under the volcanic debris just as it stood at the time of the eruption. The city (still being excavated) consisted of large, well-built, multi-story houses that contain some of the finest Minoan frescoes found in the Mediterranean. The discoveries show that strong links existed during the Bronze Age between Crete and Thera. 
The world map might look differently had the Greek volcano Thera not erupted 3,500 years ago in what geologists believe was the single-most powerful explosive event ever witnessed.

Thera didn't just blow a massive hole into the island of Santorini – it set the entire ancient Mediterranean onto a different course, like a train that switched tracks to head off in a brand new direction.

Minoan culture, the dominant civilization in the Mediterranean at the time, crumbled as a result of the eruption, historians believe, changing the political landscape of the ancient world indefinitely. Environmental effects were felt across the globe, as far away as China and perhaps even North America and Antarctica.

The legend of Atlantis and the story of the Biblical plagues and subsequent exodus from Egypt have also been connected to the epic catastrophe.

Dwarfed the atomic bomb

Historians and archaeologists have had trouble deciding on the year Thera erupted, with dates ranging anywhere from 1645 BC to 1500 BC. Studies of ash deposits on the ocean floor have revealed, however, that when the volcano did blow, it did so with a force dwarfing anything humans had ever seen or have seen since.

There are no first-person accounts of what happened that day, but scientists can compare it to the detailed records available from the famous eruption of Krakatoa, Indonesia, in 1883.

That fiery explosion killed upwards of 40,000 people in just a few hours, produced colossal tsunamis 40 feet tall, spewed volcanic ash across Asia, and caused a drop in global temperatures and created strangely colored sunsets for three years. The blast was heard 3,000 miles away.

Thera's eruption was four or five times more powerful than Krakatoa, geologists believe, exploding with the energy of several hundred atomic bombs in a fraction of a second.

An absence of human remains and valuables like metal suggest that the Minoan residents of Santorini predicted the eruption and the island was evacuated, but the culture as a whole did not fare as well.

Based on the nearby island of Crete, the powerful Minoan civilization declined suddenly soon after Thera blew its top. Tsunamis spawned by the eruption would have swamped its naval fleet and coastal villages first off, historians think. A drop in temperatures caused by the massive amounts of sulphur dioxide spouted into the atmosphere then led to several years of cold, wet summers in the region, ruining harvests. The lethal combination overran every mighty Minoan stronghold in less than 50 years.

In just a short time, their peaceful, efficient bureaucracy made way for the warring city-state system of ancient Greece to dominate the Mediterranean. The Aegean would turn out to be a fundamental building block for the history of Europe, and the Minoan decline changed its early foundation completely.

Famous legends

Thera didn't just alter the cultural make up of Europe, it has kept adventurers and treasure hunters busy too.

When the Greek philosopher Plato described the lost city of Atlantis over a thousand years after the volcanic eruption, he may have been referring to Thera folklore passed down in Greece over many generations and exaggerated like a game of broken telephone.

The eruption has also been loosely linked with the Biblical story of Moses and the exodus from Egypt. The effects of Thera's eruption could have explained many of the plagues described in the Old Testament, including the days of darkness and polluting of the rivers, according to some theories.

Source /Photos/Biography

Edward Brongersma: The Thera Inscriptions Ritual or Slander?, in: Journal of Homosexuality, 20(4) 1990. (also online: The Thera Inscriptions, English)
Αξιοθέατα στην Αρχαία Θήρα
Αρχαία Θήρα, Οδυσσεύς, Υπουργείο Πολιτισμού και Τουρισμού
Αγριαντώνη, Χριστίνα: «Tο κρασί στην οικονομία της Σαντορίνης», O σαντορίνη της Σαντορίνης, Ίδρυμα Φανή Mπουτάρη, Aθήνα 1994, σσ. 67–74, 198–203
Γαρουφαλής, Δημήτριος Ν.: «Σαντορίνη 1500 π.Χ.: Η Πομπηία του Αιγαίου», Περισκόπιο της Επιστήμης, τεύχος 218 (Ιούνιος 1998), σσ. 69-78
Κονταράτος, Αντώνης: ΣΑΝΤΟΡΙΝΗ - πορεία στο χρόνο, Εκδόσεις «Ηλιότοπος», 2007, ISBN 978-960-89882-0-0
«Σαντορίνη: Η έκρηξη των αισθήσεων». Ειδικό αφιέρωμα περιοδικού Γεωτρόπιο, τεύχος 9, σσ. 22-47 (Ιούνιος 2000).
Forsyth, Phyllis Y.: Thera in the Bronze Age, Peter Lang Pub Inc, New York 1997. ISBN 0-8204-4889-3
Friedrich, W., Fire in the Sea: the Santorini Volcano: Natural History and the Legend of Atlantis, translated by Alexander R. McBirney, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2000.
History Channel's "Lost Worlds: Atlantis" archeology series. Features scientists Dr. J. Alexander MacGillivray (archeologist), Dr. Colin F. MacDonald (archaeologist), Professor Floyd McCoy (vulcanologist), Professor Clairy Palyvou (architect), Nahid Humbetli (geologist) and Dr. Gerassimos Papadopoulos (seismologist)

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